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Stuart Soroka
Stuart Soroka

News photos shape immigration attitudes

Michigan News 5/20/21

News images of immigrants have an effect on some Americans’ attitudes towards immigration, a new University of Michigan study shows.

Photos of large groups of immigrants, such as the migrant caravan, may decrease support for immigration. Images of individuals, however, produce the opposite effect. In line with work on “person positivity,” personalized images tend to increase support for immigration, particularly among Americans who are threat-sensitive.

News coverage about immigration has intensified in the last decade, as media outlets often report on Central American migrants—often portrayed in thousands—coming to the Mexico-U.S. border seeking refuge from their home countries. The text and photos used in these stories shape public sentiments.

Guadalupe Madrigal, the study’s lead author and a doctoral candidate in the U-M Department of Communication and Media, along with U-M professor Stuart Soroka, examined how these stories and images are connected to threat perceptions and person positivity.

Madrigal and Soroka conducted an online survey in which respondents randomly read a news story with either an image of immigrants in a crowd setting, an image of an individual immigrant, or a control condition without a story or photo.

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